Enfrijoladas, Mexico’s national dish for fantastic leftovers

It’s a fact that there are amazing go-to leftover dishes all over this world. I think that’s because they’re based on food made at home with deep love, and because so many things really are even better the next day. Of course the real beauty of this is the opportunity to clean out the fridge and rummage through the pantry. All that said, the root of such a meal must be truly stellar, and great beans certainly fall into that category, especially when they lead to Enfrijoladas, Mexico’s national dish for fantastic leftovers.

Enfrijoladas Ebeños Enfrijoladas Ebeños

Like many a favorite, claims to the origins of enfrijoladas are many and varied, from all points of the compass down there. While discerning that is nigh on impossible, what we can say is that the dish is very old. To reinforce that point, we need only to take a quick look at Oaxacan cuisine.

Oaxaca, the heartbeat of indigenous Mexico

Oaxaca is down south a mite, west of the state of Chiapas and south of Puebla state. This area remains a bastion of original Mexican culture, with roughly 50% of the indigenous population there non-Spanish speakers. The geography and climate have allowed pre-Columbian culture to remain relatively healthy, which is a godsend to those striving to better grasp Mexico prior to the arrival of the Spaniards – Recent archeological studies indicate that the first inhabitants arrived over 10,000 years ago.

That antiquity is certainly reflected in the Oaxacan diet, where corn, beans, chiles, chocolate, game, and yes, insects, are staples to this day, with relatively little European influence found therein. Hundreds of mole variants come from here, as do rightfully famous versions of enfrijoladas. Made simply with black beans and potent chiles on lightly fried, fresh corn tortillas, This is a delicious and stunningly complex experience for such a simple dish – And it’s a safe bet they’ve been made this way for a long, long time.

Regardless of origin, the real beauty of making enfrijoladas is that winging it is par for the course. It’s a dish intended to use whatever you find that seems promising to you – So explore, take a risk or three, and see what happens. It’s a safe bet you’ll rarely make the same thing twice, and that’s good, (and of course, if you do strike on a mix that really bowls you over, write it down so you can do it again.)

So, naturally, there’s the bean question. When this posts I know that a bunch of y’all are going to think, ‘I’ve heard of those, but I thought they were supposed to be made with ____ bean.’ You’re not wrong, but the real key to great enfrijoladas is this – You can and should make them with any bean you have. That is, in fact, the great joy of the dish. If they’re really good beans, like Rancho Gordo or other reputable heirloom stuff, they’ll be stunning. I cannot encourage you enough to try a bunch of different beans in this pursuit. Yes, down in Oaxaca, black beans generally rule, but everywhere in Mexico, they grow and eat far more varieties than that. 

Rancho Gordo is the best way I know to try top shelf heirloom beans – In fact, the ones you’ll see me use herein are a French variety, Mogette de Vendée, that I got from them. I overcooked them for my original intent, but rather than freak out, we froze them and bided our time – When the thought of enfrijoladas came up, we went to the freezer and were off to the races – That’s how great leftovers work, gang.

French white beans for enfrijoladas?! Si!

The heartbeat of enfrijoladas is the sauce and the tortillas, of course. If ever there was a time to make fresh corn tortillas, this would be it, but don’t let that stop you from enjoying the dish – As you’ll see in our pictures, we had store bought stuff that needed to get used, so that’s what we did – It’s all good in the ‘hood. 

Your sauce may be nothing more than beans and chiles with some bean broth or stock to thin things out, and if so, it’ll be wonderful – It never hurts to start as a purist, if for no other reason than to fully grasp why this dish is so ubiquitous down south. Again though, this is all about exploring pantry and fridge and using what needs to be used. You’ll see below that our version had quite a bit in the mix – Either end of that spectrum and everything in between is encouraged. 

As for filling, nothing more than great cheese is needed, preferably Mexican – Manchego would be a great filling cheese, as would Queso Blanco or Queso Oaxaca, (and Cotija or Queso Fresco would be great for topping). That said, here too the Leftover Rule is in full force – So use what needs to go. If you’ve got proteins, fine, if not, that’s fine too.

Toppings are also up for grabs. Certainly salsa or pico de gallo will go well, as will avocado, crema (Mexican sour cream), cilantro, shredded cabbage, citrus, more diced veggies, maybe a quick pickle of something – Whatever you have that needs to get used.

Enfrijoladas Toppings - Whatever ya got.

When preparing the sauce, you may simply add beans and some broth or stock to a pan, mash them to your liking, add some chiles, and call it good, because rustic is very good indeed. If you want or need to add more stuff, then you’ll want to get a blender involved. Either way, this is not a difficult or time consuming dish to make, which is another big reason it’s so popular.

 

Rustic Enfrijoladas

2-3 Cups of any cooked Bean, hopefully with some broth, (if not, chicken or veggie stock is fine)

9-12 Corn tortillas

Fresh, dried, or ground Chiles

Shredded Cheese for filling and, if desired, topping

Salsa or Pico de Gallo

Crema (or sour cream)

Leftover meat or poultry, if desired

Avocado oil for frying

If using fresh chiles, stem, seed, and fine dice.

Prepare salsa, pico, and other toppings as desired.

If using dried chiles, bring a small sauce pan of water to the boil and then remove from heat. Add however many chiles you desire and allow them to steep for 20-30 minutes until softened. Remove skins, tops, and seeds, and then mince.

In a large skillet over medium heat, add beans and mash by hand to a rough but even paste.

Add enough broth or stock to the beans to achieve the consistency of stew or a thick pasta sauce.

Add chiles to the beans and stir to incorporate. 

When the mix is heated through, reduce heat to warm.

In a second skillet over medium high heat, add a tablespoon of avocado oil and heat through.

Fry tortillas just enough to heat them through, but remain flexible.

To serve, add a generous swipe of bean sauce to a warm plate.

grab a tortilla, slather it with a thin layer of beans, and add cheese and any other fillings, then roll it up and place it seam side down on the plate. Repeat to desired serving size, then add a generous spoon or two of bean sauce to the tops of the rolled tortillas.

Serve immediately.

 

Urban’s Deluxe Enfrijoladas – Again, this is what I had on hand that needed to get used – It’s a guideline, not a rule, so have fun and use what you’ve got.

white bean enfrijolada sauce

For the Bean Sauce – 

3-4 Cups leftover beans

Bean Broth or Stock

9-12 Corn Tortillas

1+ Chiles of your choice, (I used 3 Serrano’s that needed to go.)

1-2 Tomatoes

3-4 Tomatillos

1/2 medium Onion

3-4 cloves fresh Garlic

1 Tablespoon Apple Cider Vinegar

1 Tablespoon dried Guajillo Chile

1/2 teaspoon fine ground Salt

Stem, core and halve veggies, then arrange on a baking sheet.

Veggies for enfrijolada sauce, ready to roast

Place on an upper middle rack in an oven on broil and cook until the skins blister.

Remove from heat and allow to cool enough to handle.

Roasted veggies for enfrijolada sauce

Wrap tortillas in metal foil and toss them into the hot oven to warm up (shouldn’t need any heat after roasting the veggies in there – You just want to warm them a little to encourage the sauce to stick during assembly.)

Add beans, roasted veggies, and vinegar to a blender vessel with a half cup of bean broth or stock. Process into a smooth sauce, adding more liquid as needed, to achieve the consistency of a thick soup or pasta sauce.

Transfer the sauce to a skillet over medium heat.

When the sauce is heated through, add guajillo chile and salt, and stir to incorporate. You may want to add more broth, stock, or seasoning to strike a balance you like.

Turn the heat down to low.

For the filling – 

Use any leftover meat, poultry, or what have you, if you wish. 

2 Cups of melting cheese

Dice up proteins and add it to a skillet over medium heat with a little stock or broth to moisturize and allow that to heat through.

Shred melting cheese.

For the toppings – Here again, use what you’ve got that needs to go – We went with,

Chopped Tomato

Diced Onion

Chopped Avocado

Chopped Cilantro

A quick pickle of sweet peppers, chiles, onion, cilantro (All veggies fine diced, in 3/4 Cup cider vinegar, 1/4 cup water, pinch of salt, three finger pinch of Mexican oregano.)

Shredded lettuce with sliced radish

Lime Wedges

Crema

Crumbled Queso Cotija 

Roasted Pumpkin Seeds

 

For the Big Show –

Preheat oven to 300° F and place a rack in the middle position.

Lightly rub a 9” x 11” baking dish with avocado oil.

Set up an assembly area where you can have your bean sauce and fillings side by side with your baking dish.

Enfrijolada assembly station

Spread a generous layer of the bean sauce evenly across the baking dish.

Enfrijolada baking dish ready for tortillas

Grab a tortilla and either dunk one side into the bean sauce, or use a spoon to do the same while you hold it – Whichever works easier for you. 

Add a nice even layer of sauce to the tortilla, then add fillings. 

Enfrijoladas dipped and ready for filling

Roll the tortilla up and place it seam side down in the baking pan.

Enfrijoladas dipped and filled

Repeat until you’ve filled the pan.

Add any and all remaining bean sauce to the tops of the tortillas.

Enfrijoladas Ebeños ready to bake

You can add more stuff there if you like – Tomato, onion, what have you.

Bake at 300° F for 30 minutes.

Remove from oven and allow to rest for 10 minutes.

Enfrijoladas Ebeños

Go wild.

BTW, none of mine survived contact with the enemy, which is as it should be…

Happy Day to… Me!

So this writing day falls on my birthday – number 59 in fact.

It’s been an incredibly weird and stressful week at work, not in a bad way, but because of just mind blowing circumstances. That topped off today with a long visit from my boss and his boss – Which turned out to be a ‘Great visit’ according to both of them, and therefore, according to me too.

That said, I was the only manager in café until after well after 3 pm, and it took about that long to find somebody else to shut ‘er down tonight – Like I said, very weird circumstances indeed.

In any event, I just got home at around 5, finally got a shower, and am now sitting on the couch with a dog, a cat, and a very nice glass of red wine.

I’m gonna ask M to bring us some dinner home from in town, and watch some baseball on the tube with my family.

I’ve had happy birthday wishes from literally hundreds of folks, and I need to get down to saying thank you for those.

Therefore, in so many words, this is all y’all get from me this week! Cook well, love one another, and I’ll be back next week.

Are Home Cooks an Endangered Species?

Steve Sando runs Rancho Gordo, our go to bean purveyor. He also speaks his mind in a way I particularly enjoy.

His most recent newsletter included a ‘rant’ which resonated with me – he wrote,

‘You may not realize it but as time marches on, we home cooks are becoming rarer and rarer. The fact that we get excited about a new bean, a cooking pot, or even a new wooden spoon, puts us in the minority. Most of us think of cooking as fun and a great way to bring people we care about together. We see a pound of beans and we imagine how we’ll be cooking them, how we’ll be serving them, and maybe the smiling faces that will be eating them. I have a constant vision of leaving the kitchen and walking towards the dining room table with a huge pot of something good between my hands as I ask for help finding a trivet. This is possibly my favorite moment of the day. I try and do it most nights. 

A meal kit is fine. A frozen dinner is an emergency. A dinner out is fun and sometimes inspirational. But a refrigerator full of cooked beans, roasted vegetables, stocks and broths, pickles and condiments, is like a palette waiting to be put to use to create something new.’

Notice that the title of the newsletter was, You Are Not Normal – So I gotta ask, do you think that’s true? Does Steve’s rant resonate with you, too? The thought that struck me most was his first line, ‘You may not realize it but as time marches on, we home cooks are becoming rarer and rarer.’ Do you think this is true? If so, it’s a very sad state of affairs.

It was also not lost on me that this mornings check of social media found an unusual volume of politics, doom and gloom news, and general negativity. When that’s the case, finding something positive, something genuinely wholesome and good to focus your energy around is a critical process – If we don’t, we drown. As far as I’m concerned, that really aughta be cooking great food at home for those we love – If not doing that is ‘normal,’ I want nothing to do with normalcy.

If that last thought seems shallow to you, I respectfully disagree. When I do orientation for new hires in the café, I tell them a story about how they’re going to be at work one day, and they’ll come back to the line and exclaim, ‘man, I don’t see how somebody can get that worked up about a sandwich.’ Then I tell them why it happens – it’s because people deal with overwhelming waves of crap all day, and they think, ‘I’m gonna go to the café and get my favorite thing to eat, and for a time, all will be right with the world,’ – And if we screw that up, it cuts deep. Food is closer to the heart for humans than dang near anything else.

get your hands in there and squish those roasted ‘matoes!

Secondly, what we eat has a huge impact on our health and wellbeing, spiritually, mentally and physically. We must eat well to thrive, and that’s especially so when times suck. Highly processed food, fast food, junk food – All that is poison when you’re feeling down. What’s called for is healthy, fresh stuff, made with love, at home.

A friend posted this on FB, ‘When you notice your mental health declining, do one small thing that brings you peace. Take a shower, text a loved one, step outside. One little step is all you need to remind yourself that this is not permanent.’ And that’s key – Sure, grilled cheese is just a simple sandwich – But when you’re feeling vulnerable and overwhelmed, the process of making and sharing a delightfully crunchy, melty creation with family or friends, in the warmth and comfort of your own home, is exactly what’s needed to reestablish balance.

Teaching love for cooking

And what are we teaching our kids and grandkids, if we don’t cook at home, regularly and with love? That sustenance is just a thing to be shoveled down, and nothing more? What a sad thought. Food is life, sharing great food is love, and without that, we perish, literally and figuratively. When schools no longer teach Home Ec, who will if we don’t? Who will pass on family favorites, comfort food, and the will and desire to explore exotic culinary worlds? If we don’t do it at home, Steve’s right, and a critical skill and joy in life is extinguished. It’s already happening in this country, more so than most others, and that trend absolutely must be reversed.

I don’t think it matters what you make, or how often you make it. It certainly doesn’t matter if it’s simple or complex. It probably won’t be ‘restaurant quality,’ and that’s likely a very good thing. What matters is that you come home, decompress for a bit, maybe have a glass of wine – And then you go see what’s what in your fridge and pantry. I hope that, when you check out that palette, you find stuff that makes you think, ‘I dunno if that’ll really work or not, but… what the heck, let’s take a swing at it.’ 

Do that with love. Repeat same the next night, and the next, and so on for most nights. Find some peace, share a meal, teach your kids and grandkids those passions. That’ll do much to bring the balance back.

Beautiful Barbecue Beans

Wait, more on beans? Yeah, and here’s why. They’re genuinely good for you – They’re a nutrient dense food with antioxidant properties, and eating them regularly can help reduce your risk of a raft of nasty things like cancer, heart troubles, and such – Research it for yourself and see if I’m shooting you straight. 

Better yet, great beans are incredibly tasty and lend themselves to a wide variety of flavors and textures. Last night, when M announced pork ribs for dinner, I whipped up a batch of barbecue beans, (I winged it big time, but they were so dang good I just had to share them here.)

BBQ beans demand a great sauce, and that means made from scratch. The sauce not only provides rich counterpoint to a firm, creamy bean, it also helps make the low and slow cooking process as effective as it is.

First decision is what bean in what form should we use? Dried is my answer, and specifically, Rancho Gordo beans. These are superior beans to dang near anything else you’ve ever tried. If you think you don’t really like beans, try them, and they’ll change your mind – They’re that good. Next question, what variety to use? A lot of folks swear by Great Northern or Navy, and they’re not wrong, but my go to is an RG pinto – These are not the usual nondescript whatever bean most pintos are – These are rich, creamy, firm beans that soak up flavor while maintaining firmness and texture.

You’ll notice a couple other unique ingredients from Rancho Gordo in this recipe. I strongly encourage you to take the plunge and try them, they’re well worth it. They’ll add unique and subtle flavor notes to the finished dish you simply won’t get elsewhere, (but fear not – I’ll offer common subs as well.)

This recipe is scaled for a full pound of beans. While you might not need all that in one sitting, they’ll be fine in the fridge for 3 to 5 days, and if properly packaged, will freeze well for several months, (glass, airtight, minimal air space, will do the deed.) 

I’m calling for a Dutch oven to do the baking in, because a fair amount of y’all have one, (and you don’t, you aughta), but a heavy baking dish will also do fine. If you’re blessed with a clay cooking vessel, then that’s your go to for this dish.

Yes, there’s a lot of stuff in this recipe, but it’s not as complex or time consuming as it might appear, and the rewards are great. While there is always more than one way of building a dish, do try this one as noted. Note that I’m not calling for a pre-cooking soak of the beans – It’s not necessary for a long, low and slow cook like this, and it may well rob them of flavor. You’ll see that I call for salting the water the beans do their initial cooking in – Fact is the ‘never salt beans until they’re done or they’ll be tough,’ mantra is an old wives tale – High quality, fresh beans will come out tasty and tender every time with a little salt in the cooking water.

Granted, this isn’t a super low calorie dish – In fact, with some freshly baked cornbread, a dollop of sour cream and a good IPA, it’s a very hearty meal in and of itself.

Scratch made barbecue beans

Urban’s Barbecue Beans

1 Pound Rancho Gordo Pinto Beans, (and if you’re winging it, good quality Great Northern or Navy beans will do)

2 Cups House Made Chicken Stock, (good store bought will work fine)

8 ounces thick cut Smoked Bacon

1 large yellow Onion, (about a cup and a half or so)

1-2 fresh Chiles, (I like Serrano, but Jalapeños are great too)

1/4 fresh Red Bell Pepper

2 cloves fresh Garlic

1 large fresh Tomato

1 Cup Ketchup

1/2 Cup dark brown Sugar

1/4 Cup Black Strap Molasses

2 Tablespoons Agave Nectar

2 Tablespoons Rancho Gordo stone Ground Chocolate, (other good Mexican disc chocolate is fine)

2 Tablespoons Rancho Gordo Pineapple Vinegar, (Live Cider Vinegar will do as a sub)

2 Tablespoons Yellow Mustard

2 teaspoons fine ground Black Pepper

2 teaspoons ground New Mexican Red Chile powder, (not chili powder, just powdered red chile)

2 teaspoons ground Celery Leaf, (1 teaspoon of seed or celery salt will do fine, if that what you’ve got, for the latter, omit the kosher salt below)

1 teaspoon Hot Sauce, (I prefer Tabasco, but use what you like best)

1 teaspoon fine kosher Salt

Bean Broth

Fresh Water

In a stock pot over high heat, add 6 cups of water, a tablespoon of salt, and whisk to dissolve. Add the beans and adjust water level to maintain at least 2” over the beans, (and more is totally cool).

Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to maintain a brisk simmer for 15 minutes.

cover the stock pot and turn the heat to the lowest setting you’ve got. 

Adjust water level if needed to maintain at least a couple inches above bean level. 

Cover, and leave beans to cook in the barely bubbling bean broth.

Check your beans every 30 minutes for doneness and water level – You want them not done, but very al dente, aka still kinda hard in the middles – and maintain that 2” of water above them. When you’re there, turn off the heat and slide the pot off the burner – This will typically take anywhere from 60 to 90 of cooking time minutes.

Drain the beans, reserving 2 cups of bean broth.

Now it’s time to assemble your mise en place – Use small bowls or dishes for your prepped ingredients.

Cut bacon into roughly 1/2” strips width-wise across each piece.

Peel and fine dice onion. 

Stem chiles (devein if you don’t want full heat), and fine dice.

Stem, trim, and fine dice red pepper.

Smash garlic with the side of a chef knife, peel, end trim, and then mince.

Cut tomato into roughly 1/4” slices, then dice.

You can combine onion, chiles, and red pepper in one bowl. Keep garlic and tomato separate.

Fine grate 2 tablespoons of chocolate.

In a non-reactive mixing bowl, combine ketchup, diced tomatoes, brown sugar, molasses, agave nectar, chocolate, vinegar, mustard, pepper, chile powder, celery leaf, hot sauce, and salt. Whisk to incorporate and set aside to allow flavors to marry.

Preheat oven to 300° F, and place a rack in a middle slot.

In a Dutch oven over medium high heat, add bacon and cook until the lardons are nice and crisp and most of the fat has rendered out. Carefully transfer bacon with a slotted spoon to a plate or bowl covered with clean paper towel – Let as much fat as possible drip back into the Dutch oven as you do so.

Add onion, chiles and red pepper to the Dutch oven and sauté until the onion begins to brown lightly, about 5 minutes. 

Add garlic and sauté until the raw garlic smell dissipates, about 1 minute.

Add chicken stock and deglaze any naughty bits from the bottom of the pan.

Add beans, bacon, and the sauce, and stir to incorporate thoroughly.

Add bean broth and stir until you get a consistency like a stew – Notably wetter than you want the finished beans, with about 1/2” of liquid above bean level.

Let the whole mix reach a simmer, stirring occasionally.

When you’ve got a simmer, cover the Dutch oven and slide that bad boy into the oven, (and don’t forget to turn your burner off.)

After 2 hours, uncover and check moisture level and bean doneness. 

If things get too thick, stir in a little more bean broth.

Total bake will typically take 3 – 4 hours – When beans are done to your liking, pull from the oven and let rest for 15 minutes before digging in.

Moros y Cristianos

Since rediscovering Rancho Gordo beans, and even joining the Bean Club, (which ain’t easy – It’s capped currently at 5000 members, it’s full, and there’s a substantial waiting list!), we’ve been more and more entranced with the diversity and wide ranging potential of bean dishes. These RG beans are just incredibly good, and you don’t need to be a Bean Clubber to enjoy them – Just head for their website, but be forewarned – This is the time of year when quite a few varieties are not available, a function of their small size and heavier than expected holiday demand. Fortunately, the dish we’re going to highlight today calls for black beans, and not only does RG have stunningly good options in that regard, but they’re in stock as I write, too. The Ayacote Negros are wonderful, as are the Midnight Blacks – so if this piece floats your boat, head on over to RG and snag some while the snagging is good.

Arguably, the most wonderful use for most wonderful beans are old school stuff that may have gone by the wayside, like Moros y Cristianos.

Great Cuban food always has Moros

If you’ve ever eaten authentic Cuban food, then you’ve likely had Platillo Moros y Cristianos. Also known as moro, moros, or arroz moro, this is the classic Cuban version of rice and beans. Widely served and loved in its home country, as well as throughout the Caribbean and the southeastern U.S., moros is a deeply nuanced dish with a wealth of wonderfully blended favors. Translated, moros y cristianos is Moors, (the black beans), and Christians, (the rice). The name harkens all the way back to the Islamic conquest of the Spanish peninsula in the 8th century. That event had profound effect on Spanish food and culture that resonates in this wonderful dish, for among many other staples, the Moors brought rice and beans, and a live of subtlety and complexity in cooking.

The Moorish influence on Spanish food and culture runs deep

Making moros y cristianos takes a bit longer than other variations on the theme, but rewards with truly amazing favors for your efforts. Served alone with fresh tortillas, it’s a deeply satisfying and filling treat. If you’re of a mind to pair with another protein, simple shredded beef, chicken, or pork is all you need.

image

For the Moros
2 Cups dry Black Beans
2 Tablespoons diced Onion
2 Tablespoons chopped Bacon
1 clove Garlic, peeled and rough chopped
1/2 teaspoon Sea Salt
1/4 teaspoon ground black Pepper

Preheat oven to 250° F.
In an oven-ready sauce pan with a tight fitting lid, add all ingredients, (and if you’re blessed with some kind of clay cooker, use that!)
Pour enough boiling water over the beans to completely cover by a good 2”.
Cover the pan and set on a middle rack.
Bake for 75 minutes, checking the water level after half an hour, and again at 45 minutes and an hour in. Add water as needed.
When beans are slight al dente, remove from heat and set on stove top, covered.

For the Cristianos
1 Cup long grain white rice
1/4 Pound Bacon
1 Cup diced sweet onion
3/4 Cup diced Green Pepper
1/4 Cup fine chopped Cilantro
3-4 cloves Garlic, peeled
1 Tablespoon Red Wine Vinegar
1/2 teaspoon Oregano
1/4 teaspoon ground Cumin
1 Bay Leaf
Sea Salt
Olive Oil

Using the flat side of a chefs knife, smash the garlic cloves, then sprinkle lightly with salt and allow to rest for five minutes.
Mince rested garlic into a paste and set aside.
Chop bacon, then add to a large sauté pan, (with a cover you’ll use later), over medium heat and fry until crisp lardons are formed, about 5 minutes.
Transfer bacon from pan to paper towels, leaving bacon fat in the pan.
Add two tablespoons of olive oil to bacon fat, bringing heat back up to medium.
Add 3/4 cup of the onion, pepper, and garlic to hot oil,and fat and sauté until the onion is translucent, about 3-5 minutes.
Add dry rice, bay leaf, cumin, oregano, stir all to incorporate.
Taste and add salt and pepper as desired.
Add Beans and their liquid, and the vinegar, then stir to incorporate.
Cover and reduce heat to low.
Simmer for 30 to 40 minutes, checking and stirring at around the 20 minute mark. Add a bit more water if things look too dry.

Homemade Moros y Cristianos

Serve piping hot, garnished with remaining onion and the cilantro, with fresh, warm tortillas.

Operation Reduce Kitchen Plastic – Ork Pee!

Hello! We’re back from winter vacation – We trust the holidays were good to you and yours, as they sure were to us – Family, food and fun are three of our favorite F words. (Sorry, couldn’t resist).

In any event, here’s what’s up in our kitchen. I researched, tested and chose some new non-stick pans – A thing I didn’t like very much until I got my paws on these new ones, which I think highly enough of to include on our essential Cookware page. What? You don’t see that page? Well truth be told, no, you don’t, yet – But that, along with some other fresh Essentials pages, will be appearing soon, so please do stay tuned! Then finally, Santa gifted us with a home sous vide unit, so expect some process and execution thoughts and recipes from that in the not too distant future as well.

We’ve also been working diligently on Operation Reduce Kitchen Plastic, (ORKP, or Ork Pee, if you prefer), and have an update on that worth sharing with y’all –  Here then are a few considerations for you.

The focus for this phase of ORKP is elimination of single use plastics, arguably the heart of the kitchen problem. While we tend to think of this in terms of ziplocks and such that we employ at home, the trail really begins at the store. There, everything from bags for produce and bulk foods to the bags our stuff gets stuffed with really adds up over time. The solution is simple – Reusable bags to replace all that – And those work great, if you can remember to get them out of the trunk when you arrive…

For big grocery bags, there are a lot of options. We went with a set of Earthwise cotton canvas whoppers. With hefty fabric, larger size than typical, double-stitched and machine washable, they hold up really well to hefty, regular use.

Earthwise canvas shopping bags

To replace produce bags, we got a great set of 10 solid and mesh bags made by Colony. They’re sized just right for the stuff we usually buy, and they’re machine washable cotton, well made, and hefty enough for a decent lifespan. Added bonus, the flip side of each name tag tells the cashier the tare weight of the bag, so you’re not paying for stuff you ain’t buying.

Colony bags are perfect for produce, and even show tare weight

More and more stores are offering reusable cloth bags for bulk foods too – They’re light and rugged, and just right for stuff like nuts or coffee beans that we buy regularly.

lots of Store snow offer reusable bags of their own

In house, we’ve replaced plastic bags with glass containers with air tight nylon lids – Here again, we’ve tried all glass and found the breakage rates excessive for our needs. We continue to employ canning jars as well, for freezing broth, soup, stock and such. As long as you don’t fill past the tapered neck, you’re generally good to go, (albeit you must be more careful, because they will indeed break with rough handling.)

And finally, there’s plastic wrap – Super useful, but super wasteful, so it’s house made waxed cloth wraps to the rescue. There are a bunch of these offered for sale these days, but the prices sure gave us pause, so we decided after some research to make our own. 

House made food wraps - Pretty and practical

There are a bunch of recipes out there, some that use everything we did and some that don’t. The bottom line is this – you can make wraps with just beeswax, but what you won’t have with that formula is much of a tacky quality to them – they won’t stick to themselves very well. For that, you need to add pine rosin, and since cling wrap is what everyone is trying to replace, using it made sense to us. The third ingredient we went with is jojoba oil. It helps to keep the wraps supple over time, and also imparts some antimicrobial properties to the mix – Not a bad thing in our book.

There are a ton of step by step recipes out there, so rather than repeat that, we’ll show y’all some pics of the basic process, and add some caveats that we did not see very often covered in the stuff we researched – Here are our bullet points.

1. Use new, 100% cotton fabric of a fairly lightweight weave. A lot of sites talk about something about like a bed sheet,but to be honest, we found that too far too light – We went with 100% cotton duck, and washed it first to get the sizing out, (which is important, says M.)

2. Think about the kinds of things you cover commonly, and size things to achieve that. We made a set of small, medium, and large in square, rectangular, and circular shapes, and that seems to cover most of what we ask of them – Too many sites talked about very specific sizes, and that may not be what you typically use, so measure your stuff and go with that.

DIY food wraps - Fun and pretty easy too

3. Contrary to what almost everybody says, it’s damn near impossible to get this stuff out 100% of a nice cooking vessel, so don’t use your nice Calphalon set, (right, Babe?). Go find a cheap double boiler insert and dedicate that to this process – It’ll be well worth the eight bucks it costs you.

Pelletized beeswax is super easy to work with

4. These things do NOT wear out when they start to show lines and creases – They can be reheated and recoated easily, and should be! You will get many, many moons of service from them.

The waxing is is first painted on, then baked in to fully impregnate the fabric

5. Use parchment when you bake the wraps to avoid contaminating a baking sheet.

The production process was easy and fun – In essence, you’re going to cut fabric to size, melt the ingredients, paint that onto the fabric, and then bake them for a spell to fully impregnant the sheets, and that’s pretty much it. Just be careful with it – Hot wax, rosin, and oil can and will get everywhere if you’re not paying attention. As stated, the end results are very satisfactory, and a joy to use – You might even call them the bees knees.

NOTE: As with everything we test and report on, the times described here in we’re not received in any kind of a deal with the maker. We buy them, test them, and use them, just as you would, with our very own money – Guaranteed!

Vancouver B. C. – Chinatown and Serious Ramen

M and I are on our second year of a tradition I’m liking very much – Since we live within rock throwing distance of the Canadian border, we go up for a few days the week before Christmas. It’s a good time, sort of a ’tween holidays lull. Last year was just a quiet trip to Harrison Hot Springs, which is lovely and quaint and very relaxing indeed. This year, we chose a different route, one that was guided by food as much or more as any other criterion.

Sure, we all eat when we travel, and often enough, it’s a focus, but what came to mind for us was going to Vancouver B.C. specifically for two things – First, to eat some great Asian food (and spark our own creativity thereby), and secondly, to do a recon cruise through Chinatown, maybe pick up some supplies.

The Hotel Listel in Vancouver’s West Side

We chose a nice hotel, smack in the middle of the West End, a relatively bohemian chunk of the city. Rents and incomes are middle of the road here. Roughly bordered by Stanley Park to the northwest, Chinatown and Gastown to the east, Vancouver harbor to the north, and Granville Island to the south, the West End is home to lots of art, great food, and plenty of sidewalk entertainment, (as in, just soaking up the vibe). There is marvelous, flowing diversity in the people, food, commerce, and art.

The Hotel Listel prides itself on great art.

Our hotel was the Listel, which was remarkable affordable given the obvious quality therein. They pride themselves on abundant art throughout the place, their environmental concern and awareness, (which is palpable – No plastic anything in the room, recycling containers, solar power generation, to name but a few), and their food, which for us was hot and cold. We ate at the Timber restaurant, where the staff and service were once again excellent, but dishes were hit and miss. The calimari and chicken wings were delightful, while the cheese dip and shore lunch were not so much – The dip itself was great, but the crackers and potato skins provided there with were not done at all well, and the fish, while obviously quality, came to us soggy and a bit tired. That said, room service breakfast was truly excellent – The eggs were obviously top notch, and I’d be excited about the Benedict wherever I was eating, but especially so in bed on a lazy Monday morning!

Our room in the Listel was seriously cozy

Our room faced an adjoining high rise apartment building, which initially might seem disappointing, but the fact is, this is how and where people live here, so it should be embraced – Families doing their thing, a hairless kitty in the window checking out the gulls – it was all rather nice. The staff and the people in general were remarkably friendly. The rhythm of the area varied from absolutely hopping when we arrived on a rainy Sunday afternoon, to comfortably relaxed on a weekday. The Listel has valet parking for an additional fee, (about $30 a night), which includes unlimited access when you want your ride. Staff were happy to offer good honest advice on destinations, including where not to park in Chinatown, (avoid parking garages where your vehicle isn’t in plain sight of the street). 

Vancouver Chinatown

Neither M or I had been in Vancouver for literally decades, so some broad exploration was in order. We started with Chinatown, which may have its share of touristy kitsch, but is still vibrant and genuine for the folks who live there. There is plenty of great food and some wonderful shops throughout, (like the original Ming Wo Cookware building, a truly scary place, in a good way). We sought advice from a knowledgeable resident, with an eye toward food that the locals buy and eat – He strongly recommended T & T Supermarket. There are three of these in Vancouver – we chose the one smack in the middle of Chinatown, at 179 Keefer Place, (there was ample street parking nearby on our weekday visit). 

T & T Supermarket is an absolute delight

First off, yes, this is a grocery store, but it’s certainly not your average one. We’re used to seeking out high quality ingredients when we shop at home, and to do that we visit a litany of smaller specialty shops and markets. This place has it all under one roof, (and our guide had been absolutely correct – we were part of a very small handful of non-Asian shoppers.)

T & T Supermarket is an absolute delight

The differences here lie chiefly in variety and quality. From staples like noodles, rice, flour, and oil, to incredible varieties of very fresh seafood, meat, and produce, T & T is stunningly good – If I lived here, this is where I’d shop, and in light of that, we’re already planning for our next stay to have cooking facilities so that we can do just that. On this recon trip, our purchases were kept to Christmas treats for the granddaughters, some wonderful dried noodles, and a bottle of aged black vinegar – You can bring quite a variety of personal use food items back to the States, and there’s a good resource for that here.

Our T & T stash

On the way out of Chinatown, we decided to cruise Gastown, and thought about stopping for a beer and a bite, but despite the outward charm, we found it all a bit too trite and decided to head back to the West End. Across from our hotel there was a little hole in the wall noodle place, Ramen Danbo, that always had a line in front of it, and often, a really long line. When we arrived, there were only four people out front, so we decided to go for it. There are two in Vancouver, one in Seattle, and one in NYC, augmenting the 20 shops throughout Japan. This one has only 28 seats, which explains some of the constant line, but not all – The lions share of that is due to the fact that this is really good ramen – Fukuoka style Tonkatsu, from the southern end of Kyushu, to be precise.

Ramen Danbo - Seriously good stuff

Naturally, good quality, fresh noodles are critical to ramen, and these guys certainly have those, from thin to thick, and soft to firm, as you please. As with all great soups, though, it’s more about the broth and the base. Tonkatsu is considered by many to be the ne plus ultra of Japanese ramen variants – it’s a complex, involved dance, indeed.

Ramen Danbo, Vancouver

First off, there’s the all important broth, that sublime elixir. It tastes simple as can be, and it may be, in terms of ingredients, but it’s sure not in terms of preparation. Traditionally, this is made from is pork trotters or knuckles, either split lengthwise, or whacked with a hammer to release the marrow, along with a few chicken feet, which add some serious protein, calcium, collagen, and cartilage to the mix, (AKA, some stuff that’s good for you, and some serious unctuousness). Add aromatics, (onion, garlic, ginger, leek, scallion), and finally, some fresh fatback, and then boil the shit out of it – In traditional circles, for as long as 60 hours, and you get this stock – Well, sort of anyway. Fact is, there is some seriously finicky cleaning called for to get broth as pretty as the stuff we ate at Danbo. Everything from those bones that isn’t white or beige has to go, or what you’ll get is a mud colored, albeit tasty broth, so some serious washing and nit-picky cleaning is in order. Unlike French stocks, this stuff is not clarified and filtered extensively before it’s served. With a bone broth cooked for as long as tonkotsu is, not only do you generate a bunch of gelatin, but virtually every other constituent gets into the act as well – fat, marrow, calcium from the bones themselves – All this stuff is why it’s so stunningly good.

Next comes the soup base. There are several primary Japanese variants – Tonkatsu, miso, shoyu, and shio – and Danbo does versions of all of those. Their signature base is ‘ramen-dare’, and they’re tight lipped about what’s in it – They say, and I quote, ‘our ramen-dare soup base is imported from Japan, made from select natural ingredients, and despite having low sodium, is filled with umami extracts.’ This apparent obfuscation is neither nefarious nor unusual, by the way. Like many signature ingredients, soup bases are closely guarded in Japan, so it’s next to impossible to discover exactly what’s in there. I sure don’t know what fuels Danbo’s dare, but I’d take a stab at kombu, plenty of shiitake, a little bonito, and a little shoyu – The Shiitakes would be the likely culprit for adding serious umami without a lot of sodium. As dark as the stuff looks in their menu pic, might be the possibility of deeply caramelized aromatics as well, (heavy on the onion, garlic, and ginger). The base is generally added to the broth in a ratio of around a tablespoon to a bowl, (or less, given how lightly colored theirs is when it hits the table.) 

Ramen Danbo - Seriously good stuff

Topping off Ramen Danbo’s offering is a little spoonful of red sauce – They call it tare, and all they’ll tell us is that it’s, ‘Togarashi red pepper powder mixed with Chinese spices and medicinal ingredients, this top-secret mixture brings out the flavour, umami, and full-bodied taste of our ramen,’ which significantly downplays what this stuff likely is – I’d guess that what we have here is a spin on classic Tonkatsu Master Sauce – a complex, heady mix of onion, tomato, garlic, apple, sake, kombu, hot chiles, and most if not all of the warm spices from Chinese five spice – Sort of a Japanese swing at Worcestershire sauce, (and some cooks put that into the mix, too). It is, in other words, seriously concentrated flavors, mouth feel and a decent punch in a very small package – Maybe a teaspoon crowns your bowl. 

Ramen Danbo - Seriously good stuff

Put all that together and you’ll be staring, glassy eyed, wowed, and very contently, at a mostly empty bowl if you’re me. Or you might be like the guy who sat next to us taking advantage of the kaedama offering – Additional helpings of noodles, which he did for a grand total of five servings – And He was a skinny little guy, too – Some guys get all the luck.

Real Deal Bisque – It’s all about shellfish and great stockm

I love serendipity. Yesterday, Jerry Lobdill, an old friend from Texas, got in touch looking for a shrimp bisque recipe. When I got home, Monica had bought fresh shrimp – That’s just gotta be a sign, right? I knew I had a recipe, and I do, but it turns out it hadn’t been published yet. Time to correct that glaring omission.

When you think ‘Bisque,’ what does that conjure in your minds eye? These days, it might be anything in a thick, rich creamy soup, and that’s sort of correct, but f we’re talking the genuine article, bisque is made with shellfish – lobster, crab, shrimp or crawfish. The key is starting with a great stock – If you don’t have that as the base of the dish, you ain’t got real bisque – It’s that simple.

Fresh, homemade stock is key to great bisque

That said, many things are called bisque these days, but really, that’s just done to sell stuff – Bisque sounds infinitely sexier than Cream of Whatever, doesn’t it? Fact is, the only thing I found on this site was Butternut Squash Bisque, so I’m guilty as charged. It’s high time we posted up the real deal.

Before we build, a bit of where bisque comes from. This thick, rustic soup goes back at least 500 years in France. Back when, it contained crushed seafood shells, even when the proteins involved were game, rather than shellfish. Bisque languished for a while before returning to the spotlight as a somewhat more refined dish in the late seventeenth century, (shells were still used to make the stock, but not crushed and left in, as they had been). There are many old saws about the name deriving from the Bay of Biscay, but that’s likely romanticizing – ‘Bis cuties’, roughly ‘twice cooked’, which reflects the creation of stock followed by a second cooking of the bisque itself, is the more likely root.

In any event, bisque may seem fussy and difficult, but it’s really not. If you’ve poked around here at all, you know we always start a soup or stew with homemade stock, and so should you. From absolute scratch, this stuff can be made in a couple of hours, and faster yet if you do stock one day and bisque the next.  The other must-have aspects of a genuine bisque are, a solid foundation made with fresh, aromatic bases, the freshest herbs you can get, and thickening done with a buerre manié, (more on the latter technique in a bit.) What we’ll detail here could be used with any of the shellfish I mentioned above, although you might want to tweak things a bit – like crab with mire poix and Irish whiskey subbed for the brandy, lobster with soffritto and rum,  or crawfish with a Cajun Holy Trinity and bourbon, or something else you come up with on your own – You get the idea.

Buerre manié - kneaded butter- The key to thickening soups, stews, and sauces.

A note on buerre manié, since that may be a new trick some of y’all. If you’ve ever wondered how professionals make such lovely, thick, shiny soups, stews, and sauces, this is how it’s done. Buerre manié is a classic French technique for thickening – it couldn’t be easier, and there’s no better way to get the job done. Buerre manié means kneaded butter, and that’s exactly what you do. Equal portions of butter and flour are combined by hand to form a smooth, uniform paste. What this does is evenly coat the flour with butter, allowing us to introduce prodigious thickening power without clumping – A most important thing, oui? Once mixed, you roll up roughly teaspoon sized balls of the stuff and add one at a time to whatever you need thickened, thoroughly whisking that into the mix, et viola – la perfection!

Finally, and as always, you want the freshest ingredients you can get, and that doesn’t just refer to the shellfish – Your aromatics, herbs, and dairy should be top notch as well. So here ya go, Jerry, and the rest of y’all as well.

Shrimp Bisque a la Urban

Medium Shrimp come 41-50 to the pound

For the Stock

2 Quarts Water

Shells from 1 1/2 pounds of medium sized shrimp.

1/2 Cup yellow Onion, chopped

1/2 Cup Celery (Leaves are preferred), chopped

1/2 Cup Carrot, chopped

1/2 fresh Lemon

3 cloves fresh Garlic, crushed, skinned, and minced

5-6 whole peppercorns

2 Bay Leaves, (I like Turkish)

Two 3” sprigs fresh Thyme, or 1 teaspoon dried

1 Tablespoon Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Fresh ground pepper

Pinch fine grind Salt

Shell, devein, and chop shrimp. Return shrimp to fridge and retain shells.

In a stock pot over medium high heat, add the olive oil and heat through. 

Add carrot and sauté for a couple of minutes. 

Add onion and celery, season lightly with salt and pepper, and sauté until the onion begins to turn translucent, about 2-3 minutes. 

Add garlic and sauté until the raw garlic smell dissipates. 

Squeeze lemon juice into the pot, then toss the half lemon in as well. 

Add the shrimp shells, water, peppercorns, thyme, and bay leaves – Stir to incorporate.

Bring stock to a boil, then reduce heat to just maintain a simmer – Cook for one hour, uncovered.

Remove pot from heat and carefully pour stock through a single mesh strainer. Set stock aside, and discard the solids.

For the Bisque

4 Cups Shrimp Stock

1/4 Cup Heavy Cream

1/4 Cup Brandy

2 Tablespoons Onion, fine diced

1 Tablespoon Carrot, fine diced

1 Tablespoon Celery, fine diced

2 Tablespoons unsalted Butter 

2 Tablespoons All Purpose Flour

2 Tablespoons Tomato Paste

2 teaspoons Extra Virgin Olive Oil

1/2 teaspoon Turkish Oregano 

1/2 Teaspoon Lemon Thyme 

1/2 teaspoon Tarragon

2 Turkish Bay Leaves

2-4 shakes Tabasco

A few sprigs fresh Parsley, chopped fine

Salt

Fresh ground White Pepper

Reserve and set aside 8-10 whole shrimp. The rest should be shelled, deveined, and chopped.

Pull butter from fridge and set aside.

If you have fresh herbs, you can combine and mince them ahead of cooking.

In a Dutch oven over medium high heat, add olive oil and heat through.

Add carrot and sauté for a couple of minutes. 

Add onion and celery, season lightly with salt and pepper, and sauté until the onion begins to turn translucent, about 2-3 minutes. 

Add brandy and stir until raw booze smell dissipates.

Add tomato paste, and all herbs – Stir to incorporate and sauté for 2 minutes.

Add stock, bring to a boil, then reduce heat to maintain a bare simmer and cook for 60 minutes.

Carefully process bisque with an immersion blender, until you have a smooth, even consistency.

Add a couple shakes of Tabasco, taste, and adjust salt and pepper as desired.

In a small mixing bowl or cup, combine flour and butter and knead by hand until you’ve got a nice, uniform paste – This is a Beurre Manié – The classic French thickener for soups and stews.

Add beurre manié a teaspoon at a time, whisking it into the bisque – Once that’s all introduced, simmer for another 5 minutes.

Whisking constantly, slowly add cream in a thin stream.

Increase temperature to medium, (you want a rolling boil).

Add the shrimp and cook for another 15 minutes.

Ladle into bowls, garnish with a couple whole shrimp and a pinch of parsley.

Serve hot, with crusty bread and a nice dry white wine or cider.

Weighing In on Great Cookies

T’is the season for cookies, right? If you’ve got favorites or old family recipes that you love, I say cherish them, and certainly don’t mess with them – share them, and pass them on to your kids. If, on the other hand, you’ve tried other recipes and been sorely vexed and/or disappointed by the results, there’s a good chance you’re not to blame. Why is that? Most likely, it’s then that ratio thing – The thing that’s so vital to cooking, and especially to baking. Done right, cookies are easy as 1, 2, 3 – But not everyone follows the rules – It’s time to weigh in on that.

Which means we’re talking about that ratio thing – it’s 1, 2, 3, as in one part sugar, to two parts fat, to three parts flour. Subscribe to that, and the cookies world’s your oyster. Violation of this ratio, on the other hand, will likely not yield good results, and therein lies the problem with a lot of the recipes you find online, or in poorly researched cookbooks.

It would be fair to ask, how do I know this to be true? Well, let me say this about that. I got an idea for a dried cherry/chocolate/almond cookie, but was short on time and not thinking very clearly. I grabbed something off the net that was kinda close, and subbed my stuff for theirs – equal amounts of dried fruit and nuts, (albeit theirs used cranberries and walnuts). What I got was a very tasty cookie out of the oven, although they were a bit wetter and flatter than I wanted. The next day, they fell apart. Just sitting in a storage box, they fell apart – a box of somewhat gooey cookie crumbs. I grabbed that original recipe and took a closer look. Their ratio was somewhere around 3-3-2, flour to fat to sugar, and that would explain my less than stellar results. My bad, and lesson reinforced. If you know the ratio, it’s easier to start from scratch than it is to trust a recipe from somewhere else.

The first bake - The absolutely wrong ratio The first bake – The absolutely wrong ratio

The other major contributor to epic baking fails is the use of volume measurements in recipes, instead of weight. Most professional bakers around the globe weigh rather than measure, for very sound reasons. Weighing ingredients is far, far more reliable, because you get much more accurate ratios. Fundamentally, a gram is a gram the world around, but a cup most definitely is not. ‘1 Cup’ can mean anything from .85 to 1.20 of a US Cup, and that’s a wide enough margin to cause issues. It all adds up to the fact that, if you want to learn to bake really well, you’re going to need to start weighing ingredients. 

That’ll require a decent digital kitchen scale, which are cheap and readily available. Get one that has a generous bowl for doing the deed, and portioning out ingredients for most home recipes is a breeze. Is it worth twenty bucks and a very simple learning curve to become a better home baker? Yeah, it is.

The very cool thing about all this is that it opens up the world of design-your-own recipes, rather than relying on someone else’s. The next thing you know, you’ll be using cookbooks for inspiration or reference, or for the love of what the author did, not because you need them to follow recipes.

Alright, so, if we’re committed, then let us examine ingredients a bit more, then a few thoughts on technique.

Flour. What type we use matters – unbleached white pastry or all purpose are the preferred options for cookies. Pastry flour has less protein than AP, (but more than cake flour), so it strikes a great balance of flaky and tender. Bleached is a no no, as the bleaching process messes with proteins, leading to reduced gluten production, (AKA cookies that don’t hold together well). Combining flours may be a thing you’ll want to do, depending on what you’re after. The classic Scottish shortbread recipe calls for unbleached all purpose white and rice flour, for instance. Whole grain flours add a denser, nuttier end result. A good rule of thumb is to use no more than 30% of those in your mix, (which doesn’t discount those who do a bunch more – to each their own.) Varied flour ratios lead to different results, of course. A higher proportion of flour versus the liquid contained in your chosen fat and eggs leads to a more tender crumb, (and a more delicate cookie.) A lower proportion generally produces a chewier texture. Note – if you do use a recipe that simply calls for flour, they mean unbleached white all purpose.

Sweeteners. Sugar isn’t the only thing you can or should use in a cookie recipe, but it’s far and away the most popular. In addition to its sweetening power, sugar helps cookies brown, (caramelization), and contributes to crispiness by sucking up some moisture from the dough. Sugar also helps cookies spread out as they bake, (and if the ratio’s off, as it was in my first go round, then oh boy, do they.) There are a bunch of sugars out there. Some folks think that pure cane tastes better than stuff made from sugar beets. There’s bakers sugar, which is a pure cane sugar that’s ground finer than the regular stuff – it does everything a bit more efficiently. Brown sugar adds a bit of moisture to the mix by virtue of added or retained molasses – That contributes to a softer, chewier texture.

Speaking of molasses, that and a bunch of other things, like corn syrup (uggh!), maple syrup, brown rice syrup, agave nectar and good old honey can also be used. I recommend keeping maple syrup to the adjunct column, (it’s strongly flavored and expensive). Honey and agave nectar are popular substitutions these days, and for good reason – They add flavor notes plain old sugar can’t, and have far greater sweetening power. Due to the latter consideration, there are adjustments that must be made when using them – Honey is roughly twice as potent as sugar, and agave nectar around 3/4 more, so sweetener volume, and overall moisture, must be tweaked accordingly. Both are also somewhat acidic, so you’ll want baking soda in your recipe to balance that out. Both should be added and blended with fat prior to adding flour, just as you would with sugar. Finally, it’s a good rule of thumb to reduce your baking temperature by 25° F, because both agave and honey brown faster than sugar.

Fats. Butter is far and away the most common version used, although there are far more options out there – shortening, lard, ghee, cream cheese, heavy cream, various cooking oils, or combinations thereof can and are used in baking. Using any of those will give you differing results, of course – While most of what’s listed above won’t make a huge difference in color or texture, they will in terms of flavor, so be prepared to experiment. That said, fats don’t just add calories, they impact every aspect of a recipe, from overall consistency, to how they bake. For instance, butter has a notably lower melting point than many of the others noted herein, so if you see a recipe calling for half butter and half shortening or lard, what the maker was likely after was a cookie that wouldn’t end up as thin and crispy as a pure butter version would. When and if you use butter, use unsalted, because salted varies widely in how much salt is onboard.

Not all cookie recipes contain eggs, but most do, and for darn good reasons – they contribute significantly to the whole shebang. Eggs act as the largely unsung framework upon which everything else in a dough depends. They add moisture, lecithin (an emulsifier that helps disparate constituents get together), fat, and of course, protein. They help gluten do its thing, and contribute appreciably to flavor, texture, and mouth feel.

Leavening of some kind is present in the vast majority of cookie recipes. Baking soda helps cookies rise, and as mentioned, can neutralize acids like sugar and honey which, left unchecked, can mess with browning. Baking powder will also give a lift, and contribute to a lighter texture as well. Both add lift by generating CO2. Baking soda is pure bicarbonate of soda, while baking powder is that plus cream of tartar (an acidifier) and starch, used as a drying agent. If you’ve never noticed, there are single and double acting baking powders – Single means it needs moisture to activate and must be baked right away – Double means some gas gets generated right away, but most does not until baking begins, so it can hang for a time without negative effects.

Salt may be a minor ingredient, but it’s a critical one. Its unique ability to enhance flavor, separating molecules and making them available to our noses, is unmatched. It also helps strengthen the proteins within a dough, contributing to a nice chewy cookie. There’s a bunch of salts out there, and we’ve covered a lot about them here, (including our recent post on plastics in sea salts). In addition to a whole raft of varieties, these days you can also readily find different grinds. Used to be you’d need to find pickling or canning salt for a fine grind – now that’s widely available, and that’s what you want for baking – it disperses and blends much better than the coarser stuff.

Alright, let’s discuss technique. This may seem fussy, but in the end run, if you’re after making more than just a good cookie, it matters.

It is a best practice to have all your ingredients at room temperature when you’re ready to make a dough. One of the key things we need to accomplish when we do that, is to allow combined ingredients to form an emulsion that will trap and hold a fair amount of air – that’s what expands when we bake, yielding a light, fluffy cookie. Having your fat and eggs at room temperature lets a creamed mixture do exactly that – cold ingredients will impede that process.

Next, sift your dry ingredients. If you don’t have a sifter, run them through a ingle mesh strainer into a mixing bowl. Sifted flour, leavening, chocolate, what have you, is lighter, and incorporates better than non.

Creaming is what it’s called when we perform the most critical step in great cookie making – combing the fat and sugars and whisking them into a smooth, fluffy emulsion. This uniform, air injected blend is critical – Leavening agents produce CO2, yes, but they won’t do it well if they don’t have the trapped air, combined with a well mixed emulsion to hold it all in.

Once you’ve added the dry ingredients to the wet and have them uniformly mixed, stop messing with the dough – Excessive handling leads to tough cookies. 

Bake in the lower middle section of your oven, bake one sheet of cookies at a time, and spin the sheet 180° half way through the bake – All those little things add up to greater consistency and better goodies. If you really want to get after it, calibrate your oven with an external thermometer, so you know what yours really bakes at, (At work, we get right down to zone temps in our deck and rack ovens, so we know precisely where the hot and cold spots are.)

Here then is my correct recipe for chocolate, almond and cherry cookies. This will make 2-3 dozen cookies, depending on how big you portion. And yeah, it’s in grams – That’s how the rest of the world works, so we might as well get with the program. And yeah, I did give you volume cheats, too, just in case you chicken out – using those will still make a pretty good cookie.

The second bake - The right ratio - Yes, please! The second bake – The right ratio – Yes, please!

Chocolate, Almond & Cherry Cookies (2-3 dozen)

380 grams All Purpose Flour (3 Cups)

230 grams Unsalted Butter (2 sticks)

100 grams Bakers Sugar (1/2 Cup)

80 grams Dark Brown Sugar (1/2 Cup)

115 grams dried Bing Cherries (1/2 Cup)

115 grams slivered Almonds (1/2 Cup)

340 grams semi-sweet Chocolate chunks (12 ounce bag)

2 large Eggs

10 grams Vanilla Bean paste, (extract is fine too – 2 teaspoons)

4 grams Baking Soda (1 teaspoon)

4 grams fine Salt (1/2 teaspoon)

Have your eggs and butter at room temperature before proceeding.

In a cast iron skillet over medium heat, toast the almonds, stirring regularly and keeping a close eye that they don’t scorch. Remove from heat when they’re golden brown and fragrant.

When the almonds have cooled sufficiently, chop them into roughly 1/4” pieces, and set aside.

Chop cherries into roughly pea sized pieces, and set aside.

Run flour and baking soda through a sifter or single mesh strainer, into a large mixing bowl.

For the lions share of the process, a stand mixer is preferred, but if you don’t have one, you can hand whisk – Just be forewarned, it’s going to be a bit of a workout.

In a stand mixer bowl set up with a paddle, add the butter and mix on low until it’s smooth and even – about 2 minutes. 

Stop the mixer, and use a spatula to scrape the butter down from the bowl sides and paddle.

Add the sugars and salt and mix on low until the blend is smooth, about 1-2 minutes.

Again, stop the mixer, and use a spatula to scrape the creamed mixture down from the bowl sides and paddle.

Add an egg and the vanilla paste to the creamed mixture and mix on low until fully incorporated – No more than 30 seconds. Repeat the process with the second egg, and again, 15 to 30 seconds tops – You don’t want to over-beat the eggs.

With the mixer on low, gradually add the flour mixture, and mix until fully incorporated – Stop as soon as that’s achieved.

Remove the bowl from the mixer, and add chocolate, cherries, and almonds, and incorporate with a spatula, until evenly mixed.

Now that it’s mixed, you can chill your dough – for at least an hour, if you want a taller, lighter cookie. If you prefer things a bit flatter and crunchier, go ahead and bake. That said, if you’ve got a really warm kitchen, it’s a good idea to chill the dough for at least a half hour before baking, just to make sure things don’t get too loose.

If you don’t plan to bake right away, just transfer the dough onto parchment paper, and roll it into a log about 1 1/2” thick, then add a layer of aluminum foil. That’ll hold in the fridge for a week, no problem. It’ll also freeze well for up to a month – Just let the dough thaw for 15-30 minutes before cutting off 1/3” to 1/2” thick slices, and then bake away.

When you’re ready to bake, preheat oven to 350° F, and position a rack in the lower middle section.

Line a baking sheet with parchment, or use a silicone baking mat.

Scoop heaping tablespoons of dough onto the sheet, about 2” to 3” apart.

Bake for 12 to 15 minutes, spinning the sheet 180° at about 6 minutes in.

Remove the sheet from oven, and slide the parchment or silicone onto a cutting board, cooling rack, etc.

Let them cool for 10 minutes or so before you dig in, and for at least a half hour before you store them – an airtight glass container is best.